Introduction to Flashlights
Flashlights span the range from simple, basic light sources to sophisticated high-tech gadgets -- with prices over an equally wide range -- making choosing a flashlight trickier than it used to be. Some LED flashlights are now bright enough to replace traditional incandescent flashlights, and the best flashlights even use microprocessors or voltage regulators to boost efficiency. Some flashlights let the owner adjust the light to different levels, and voltage regulators keep the light consistent, even while the batteries drain. At the other extreme, cheap LED flashlights use switches that can break early, as well as poor-quality LEDs that can produce inconsistent or just plain weird light.
Consumer Reports magazine hasn't yet tested flashlights. For a time, FlashlightReviews.com more than made up for this absence, however, with comparison charts and top-ranked flashlights based on objective tests. The comparison charts are especially helpful because they include quite a few well-known incandescent flashlights. This site also provides detailed single-product reviews, including photos showing the light beam at about three feet. However, the author announced that he has stopped updating the site as of June 2007. Thus, while what's there is still relatively up-to-date, that will change over time. Another flashlight-enthusiast site, CPFReviews.com, covers fewer brands and models, but otherwise does a similarly excellent job. Especially noteworthy is a useful rating of each flashlight's "bang for the buck."
These two sites, like several others we review, abound in technical data. Less formal owner-written reviews and ratings provide a good balance, often comparing the output of a specific LED flashlight to one of the well-known MagLite flashlights. Amazon.com not only provides the largest number of owner-written flashlight reviews, but also makes them easy to browse by showing each flashlight's average rating right on the list of models.
You can still buy an ordinary 2D incandescent flashlight for about a dollar. As long as you keep plenty of replacement bulbs and batteries handy -- and if such a flashlight provides light that's bright enough for your tasks -- there's no need to pay more. However, experts and owners agree that for reliable light in emergencies -- for example, for a flashlight to keep in your vehicle -- it's worth paying more. The best LED flashlights are virtually unbreakable, can withstand heavy rain or even a dunk in water, and use high-quality LED modules that last 50,000 to 100,000 hours. Furthermore, LED flashlights with voltage regulators keep the light consistently bright even as the batteries fade, then shift to a lower level so you have plenty of time to replace the batteries.
Not surprisingly, expert reviews warn that cheap LED flashlights use poor-quality LEDs. This means the beam may be off-center or a strange color, and the phosphor coating that makes the LED produce white light may wear off early. For a trip to the bathroom at night, it may not matter. For a travel or emergency flashlight, however, experts recommend a waterproof, shock-resistant flashlight built for durability.
What flashlight type do you need?
For casual use around the house -- to light up the back of a cupboard or find the camping lanterns during a power outage -- experts say an ordinary inexpensive flashlight (that uses an incandescent bulb) will do the job just fine. As long as you have spare batteries and ideally, a spare bulb or two, there's no need to pay more than a few dollars for a flashlight. Energizer, MagLite and Dorcy are well-recommended brands. Flashlights with Xenon bulbs (filled with xenon gas) are a little brighter than regular incandescents.
For an "everyday carry flashlight" -- to keep in the glove compartment, purse or pocket, or to hang on a key ring -- experts recommend picking a good-quality flashlight with an LED instead of an incandescent bulb. Incandescent flashlight bulbs are apt to burn out suddenly or break if the flashlight is dropped, so reviews recommend LED flashlights for possible emergency use. LED bulbs don't have breakable parts and last for 10,000 or more hours of use.
White LEDs (which are really blue LEDs with a special phosphor coating) show colors best -- important for reading a colored map. If you want to preserve night vision for stargazing or night hikes, experts recommend a red LED flashlight, as long as it's dim enough that the light it casts doesn't actually look red. However, for an everyday flashlight for a purse, backpack or belt holster, experts suggest sticking with white.
The LEDs in cheap flashlights aren't as bright and are more liable to be shaped or colored oddly. Reviews say even good-quality LEDs vary enough that even within the same flashlight model, the color of the light could vary somewhat, from slightly yellowish to slightly blue or purple. This is just the current state of the technology. If you really hate the color of the light a new flashlight produces, you may have better luck if you exchange it for another of the same model.
For everyday use, your best in an LED flashlight depends primarily on the size and weight you want to carry, as well as the brightness you need. (Note that most -- but not all -- flashlight specifications for weight include the batteries.)
Key-ring flashlights weigh less than an ounce and can also fit easily in a pocket -- fine for finding a keyhole or reading a map. Most are just barely bright enough to light your path, and get much dimmer long before the LED bulb gives up.
Pocket flashlights are still small enough to carry in a pocket, ideal for a glove compartment or backpack. The best pocket flashlights boost and regulate voltage so that as the battery loses charge, the light stays bright.
Glove-compartment flashlights are too big for a pocket, but take only a little space in a glove compartment. The best glove-compartment flashlights provide long runtime plus adjustable light levels, so you can read a map at one level, but get brighter light to change a tire.
Emergency crank flashlights are still small enough to fit in a glove compartment and need no batteries at all. The best run 30 to 60 minutes after one minute of cranking, and one model can also charge a cell phone.
Household flashlights are larger and often heavy, but they're fine for general household tasks such as rooting around in the attic or finding your way in a power outage. A high-quality plastic case is best if you might use the flashlight to work around wiring.
Rechargeable flashlights are usually limited to situations where an AC outlet is handy for recharging the battery, or where the sun shines enough to make solar recharging reliable
If you think you might get into a really dangerous situation -- facing a bear, a human assailant or a hazardous path at night -- reviews recommend relatively small, light, tactical flashlights . These can throw light far ahead or temporarily blind an attacker, but the best models let you adjust the brightness to lower levels as well. Tactical flashlights are designed primarily for police, military, firefighting and hunting use, so we cover them only briefly in this report (see the Alternative Considerations section below). Tactical flashlights are so bright that they should be kept out of reach of children, so one child doesn't accidentally blind a sibling temporarily.
Some LED flashlights can run on alkaline batteries, others use only more expensive lithium-ion batteries, and some run on a whole range of batteries (including rechargeable NiMH). Expert flashlight reviews recommend lithium-ion-powered flashlights for use in very cold weather, for flashlights stored in a disaster shelter or for when you need the brightest light and longest runtime. Longer runtime makes lithium-ion batteries ideal for hikes or long trips. (ConsumerSearch has a separate report on batteries.)
Flashlight brightness, throw and light quality
Brighter isn't always better. A flashlight that's too bright can wake your sleeping partner, create so much glare that a page is hard to read or make it hard to adjust your vision back to the dark. The most flexible (and expensive) flashlights let you select from among several levels of light. Lower light levels (7 to 9 lumens) are better for closeup tasks and night walks, while higher levels let you see much further. Intermediate levels (about 45 lumens) are good for changing a tire or cooking a meal. As a rough comparison, the familiar MagLite 2D flashlight (*Est. $20) averages 36 lumens -- with a Xenon bulb that's brighter than a cheaper 2D flashlight. A flashlight that provides 80 lumens, comparable to a MagLite 3D (*Est. $22), is bright enough to temporarily blind someone close to you, and some flashlights provide even brighter strobe lights to summon rescuers.
Not all flashlight manufacturers specify the lumens, and measurement methods vary even among those that do. Furthermore, two flashlights that put out the same light in lumens may concentrate that light in totally different ways -- with one throwing a small spotlight beam a long distance and another spreading the light more for closeup or intermediate tasks. Also, the quality of the circle of light varies -- smoothly graduated or with dim spots, rings or other unevenness.
As if this weren't complicated enough, brightness varies over time -- not only gradually as batteries fade, but also within a few seconds of turning some flashlights on. Minimizing this dimming is one major reason some flashlights cost much more than others. It requires more than a top-quality LED -- it also needs digital technology, which adds to the price.
For years, standard key-ring flashlights used incandescent bulbs powered by one AAA alkaline battery. The durable, water-resistant MagLite Solitaire is still available, but flashlight reviews say it can't compare with the tiny Photon Micro-Light LED flashlights. They produce about six times the total light of the MagLite Solitaire, but weigh less than half as much and are smaller than a quarter. Both flashlights carry a lifetime guarantee, but while the MagLite carries a spare bulb in its tail, the LED on the Photon Micro-Light flashlight is unbreakable.
Flashlight enthusiast and reviewer Daniel Rutter of Dansdata.com calls the Photon Micro-Light "the best single LED light in the world if you want something really, really small." All the Micro-Light models use a high-output 5mm Nichia LED powered by tiny 3-volt lithium-ion "coin" batteries (*est. $3). FlashlightReviews.com estimates that the Photon Micro-Light Freedom (*Est. $20) can throw light about 23 feet, but of course these tiny flashlights are designed for closer use -- to read a map, find a keyhole or follow a footpath.
The Photon Freedom Micro-Light is the model reviews recommend most, since it has a microprocessor that lets the user adjust brightness. Reviews say that it's bright enough for short walks, yet can be dimmed for use next to a sleeping partner. In addition, four strobe-light options provide light that's visible up to a mile -- useful for summoning rescuers while prolonging battery life. It comes with both a quick-release key ring and a lanyard with a rotating magnetic clip. When clipped onto a hat brim, the Micro-Light serves as a small headlamp. Photon says the white-LED version gets up to 12 hours of battery life even at the brightest setting, but earlier reviews say it gets significantly dimmer after three or four hours -- though it provides some usable light far longer.
The Photon Micro-Light II (*Est. $16) has just one brightness level, while the Photon Micro-Light I has to be squeezed to stay on. The budget model, the Photon X-Light is made in China, but reviews say it's still better than knock-offs made by other brands. One review notes that the light from the X-light is slightly less even than that of the Micro-Light flashlights, but gives a nice broad beam for walking at night.
The newest model, the Photon ReX (*Est. $30) isn't reviewed yet at any of the big flashlight-review sites, but we did see a preview at BackpackingLight.com, plus some owner-written reviews. The Photon ReX provides brighter light with four LEDs instead of one -- and uses rechargeable batteries that lower the lifetime running costs. The rechargeable lithium-ion batteries recharge from any ordinary 1.2- to 3-volt battery, so each charge costs only about six cents. Recharging it from an AA rechargeable NiMH battery brings the cost per charge down to less than half a penny. It takes about two hours to recharge the flashlight, and it can't be overcharged. A solar charger is in the works.
These are great features, but owner-written reviews at the Photon forum indicate that it may have some bugs to resolve. Some owners have trouble with the recharging system, and reports of battery life vary from four hours down to 15 minutes. It's also bigger (1.25 by 2 inches, about half an inch thick), though even with batteries, it still weighs only 0.66 ounces.
Flashlights for pocket, purse or glove compartment
Some flashlights powered by a single AAA battery, such as the MagLite Solitaire mentioned above, can also be considered key-ring flashlights. However, they're so much bigger than the Photon Micro-Light flashlights that it makes more sense to think of them as pocket-size or travel flashlights.
The waterproof Arc AAA Premium (*est. $45), often recommended in reviews, can get much more light out of a single AAA battery than the MagLite, because it boosts the voltage with a regulator. The voltage regulator keeps the light consistently bright for five hours, then automatically dims for at least another two hours before the battery needs replacement. This gives the Arc AAA Premium a big advantage over the MagLite flashlights and the Photon Micro-Light models as well -- all of which dim as the battery fades.
In addition, the Arc AAA Premium flashlight is waterproof, not just water-resistant, and it uses lithium, alkaline or rechargeable NiMH batteries. Like the Micro-Lights, it uses a 5mm Nichia LED, but the flashlight itself is bigger -- about 2.75 inches long -- and at 0.8 ounces, a bit heavier. The light output is about 9 lumens. For only about $5 more, the newer Arc AAA Premium w/GS LED (*est. $50) is slightly brighter at 10.5 lumens.
Those light levels are high enough for closeup work or to light a footpath, but for brighter, adjustable light, reviews recommend the single-AAA Fenix L0D (*est. $40) or L0D-CE. The Fenix L0D uses a Luxeon LED while the L0D-CE uses a CREE XR-E bulb; both are twice as efficient as the 5mm Nichia bulb. This makes the Fenix L0D-CE bright enough to serve as a general-purpose flashlight -- amazing from an AAA battery. The Luxeon-LED version is similar, but it uses a textured reflector that spreads the light a bit more.
The brightness from these flashlights adjusts to 7.5, 20 or 50 lumens -- plus there's a strobe and an SOS light for emergencies. The expert review at FlashlightReviews.com says that at maximum brightness, the Fenix L0D-CE puts out as much light as a large 3D MagLite flashlight -- and at medium brightness, as much as a 2D MagLite. Owners say it can easily light up a yard. For many situations, therefore, the lowest light setting -- which runs 6 to 9 hours per battery -- will be bright enough. Unlike the Arc AAA, the Fenix flashlights have flat tails (even with a key ring inserted) so they can stand upright for general illumination.
One minor disadvantage of the Fenix L0D-CE is that instead of using a voltage regulator to adjust light levels, it uses pulse modulation -- the same method used by the Photon Micro-Light Freedom. This can result in some slight flickering at the low light level. Stepping up to the single-AA Fenix L1D-CE flashlight brings you a voltage regulator for consistent light, plus even brighter levels: 9, 40 and 80 lumens (plus a 90-lumen turbo/strobe mode) and longer runtime (two to 25 hours, depending on the light level). It's less than four inches long -- about the size of a typical Swiss Army knife -- and weighs 1.73 ounces. In a Cool Tools review at Kevin Kelly.org, Vincent Tseng, a flashlight enthusiast, says that of all the flashlights he's tried, the Fenix L1D-CE is the one he uses most.
For an even better combination of size, brightness and runtime, FlashlightReviews.com calls the 2-ounce Fenix P2D-CE (*Est. $55) the "perfect every day carry light," because it's "smaller than the 1D, with the output of the [bigger] 2D." It uses a high-quality Cree LED and a single CR123A cylindrical lithium-ion battery, so it's only about 3.25 inches long.
The Fenix P2D-CE also earns top ratings from owners reviewing it at Amazon.com, where one says it's "as bright as my 6D cell MagLite and fits in my pocket." Light levels adjust to 9, 40 and 80 lumens, plus a 135-lumen turbo/strobe mode. It runs about three hours on the high setting, 8 hours on medium and 30 hours on low. The sole disadvantage is that it uses only lithium-ion batteries.
As a budget pocket LED flashlight, staff at OpticsPlanet.com recommend the 3-LED, 3AAA Streamlight Clipmate. It produces just one level of light (27 lumens), but runs up to 40 hours per set of 3 AAA batteries. Despite the number of batteries, it's pocket-sized at 3.5 inches long, but comes with a lanyard and removable clip. For use with the clip, the head rotates 360 degrees. The Clipmate is only water-resistant, not waterproof like the Fenix flashlights, and at this price, it lacks a voltage regulator or pulse modulation -- so the light gradually dims as the batteries fade.
Most 2AA flashlights are about six inches long -- too big for a pocket, but fine for a glove compartment. In this size range, reviews give top marks to the waterproof Fenix L2D-CE (*Est. $55), which uses two AA batteries and weighs just under two ounces. A voltage regulator boosts light levels and keeps the light consistent at any of three levels: 9, 40 or 80 lumens -- plus a 135-lumen strobe for emergencies.
Since it uses two CR123A lithium-ion batteries, the Fenix P3D-CE Premium Q5 (*Est. $70) is even shorter at about 4.5 inches. It's ranked third at CPFReviews.com, but among the top four flashlights, the Fenix P3D-CE gets the highest rating for "biggest bang for the buck." It provides both very bright light (at 9, 40 and 90 lumens) and nearly twice the runtime (5, 13 and 65 hours). For emergencies, the 215-lumen turbo mode could definitely signal rescuers.
If you only want a flashlight to help you stay on a path or read a map, a less expensive 2AA flashlight may be all you need. Like other MagLite flashlights, the Mini MagLite (*Est. $10) is water- and shock-resistant, adjusts from spot to flood beam, holds a spare bulb inside and carries a lifetime warranty. It provides about 5.5 hours of runtime, with brightness averaging about 15 lumens. Since it lacks a voltage regulator, the light will gradually dim.
The LED version of the MagLite 2AA flashlight (*Est. $20) produces nearly five times as much light as the incandescent model, and you shouldn't need to replace the Luxeon LED for about 100,000 hours. The main drawback is shorter runtime per set of batteries. Tests at FlashlightReviews.com show the light dimming to 50 percent in a little over three hours, and shortly thereafter, the batteries need replacing. This flashlight gets mixed reviews from owners at Amazon.com, partly because the light goes out so suddenly.
The MagLite 2AA LED produces a single light level that, with fresh batteries, is similar to the middle levels on the Fenix flashlights discussed above. However, the MagLite starts dimming right away, and total runtime is much shorter. It's a good budget choice, but the cost of battery replacements will eventually make the Fenix L2D-CE a more cost-effective flashlight -- with better features to boot. In addition, the Fenix P3D-CE offers even longer runtime -- ideal for a glove-compartment emergency flashlight.
Household and garage flashlights
For use around the house, it's hard to beat a regular flashlight that uses alkaline D cells. You get a lot of light for the price. For example, owners reviewing flashlights at HomeDepot.com give top grades to the MagLite X0101H two-flashlight combo (*Est. $20) (*est. $20). The combo includes one 3D flashlight with a Krypton lamp plus a smaller 2AA flashlight, both with beams that adjust from spot to flood. They're water- and shock-resistant, with aluminum alloy cases.
Among incandescent flashlights, reviews give MagLite models top marks for quality, performance and durability. However, as noted earlier, all incandescent flashlight bulbs are relatively fragile, and they don't last as long as LEDs. The LED models are brighter, too. For example, tests at FlashlightReviews.com show the MagLite 2D LED flashlight putting out the same amount of light as the incandescent MagLite 3D (*Est. $22) . Surprisingly, the LED flashlights also get longer runtime.
Since the MagLite 2D LED lacks a voltage regulator, tests show brightness dropping to about 50 percent almost immediately; then staying fairly steady for about 22 hours before dimming even more. The MagLite 2D LED flashlight has gotten mixed ratings from the handful of owners reviewing it at Amazon.com. Owners agree that it's bright, but one says the LED module can pop out and break if the flashlight is dropped. A spare incandescent bulb -- which this flashlight can also use -- is stored in the tail, but replacing the LED is expensive.
This problem isn't noted by owners reviewing the MagLite 3D LED flashlight (*Est. $30) . Although this flashlight is big and heavy -- over 12 inches long and almost two pounds with batteries -- owners give this model top marks so far. One says it "can light up a building 200 feet away." Tests show the 3D flashlight doesn't dim to 50 percent as fast as the 2D model, and total runtime is slightly longer. Therefore, if the size isn't a problem, the MagLite 3D LED flashlight is a good budget choice. It puts out nearly twice the light of the incandescent MagLite 3D (*Est. $22) , with far better runtime as well.
Owners rating flashlights at Lowes.com give high marks to the Task Force Super 3 Watt LED Aluminum (*est. $30). Like the MagLite 2D and 3D LED flashlights, it uses a 3-watt Luxeon LED, but powers it with two C batteries instead of D batteries. We found no objective tests of this flashlight, but it would be reasonable to conclude that the MagLite flashlights get longer runtime. The main advantage of this Task Force flashlight is its smaller size and lighter weight.
The Dorcy 6-watt K2 Luxeon LED 41-4295 (*Est. $40) gets good ratings from owners reviewing it at Sears.com. It incorporates a heat sink to dissipate the heat from the bright 120-lumen LED. Though it weighs 1.6 pounds and is about ten inches long, this Dorcy model comes with a detachable belt clip. Owners say that it throws light over 100 feet and that its single light level is brighter than a MagLite 2D.
If runtime is more important than brightness, you might consider the Craftsman 3D LED 41-5830 (*est. $20). It uses only a 1-watt Luxeon LED, compared with the 3-watt Luxeon LED used on the MagLite 3D LED flashlight, so overall output has to be lower. The Craftsman does provide two light levels, though, running up to 200 hours on the brightest level and 280 on the lower. Owners reviewing it at Sears.com give it reasonably high marks.
The Stanley MaxLife Tripod 369 (*Est. $25) is even dimmer, though it uses up to six LEDs. Its main advantage is its versatility. You can use it as a handheld flashlight with the three aluminum legs folded together, or spread them out for a hands-free work light. Though it doesn't make the "Top Picks" list at FlashlightReviews.com, Doug Pribis gives it a "good" rating and adds that it's a "great utility light for around the house and fantastic for power outages."
Pribis praises the MaxLife Tripod's runtime, saying "plop in 9 cells and it'll run for days on only one LED." Stanley officially rates the runtime as 200 hours with nine AA alkaline batteries. The flashlight will also operate from three or six batteries. The number of LEDs lit is user selectable at one, three or six.
Though we've seen some complaints regarding brightness -- which FlashlightReviews.com measures at just 7.18 lumens with six LEDs lit -- most users at Home Depot, Lowes and Amazon.com give this unusual flashlight fairly high marks. The other issue worth noting is that reviewers and users say the head doesn't always stay aimed where you want it, and there's no way to tighten it. Pribis also claims that the MaxLife Tripod is a little awkward to hold as a conventional flashlight. This flashlight has some interesting features, but can be considered "budget" in most ways -- it's not very bright compared to others, and it has some usability issues, but most owners say it's a useful gadget.
Paying more for an LED flashlight with a voltage regulator keeps the light from dimming rapidly, as it does with the less expensive household flashlights discussed above. The Streamlight ProPolymer Luxeon 3C #33244 (*Est. $40) is the top-rated 1-watt LED flashlight at FlashlightReviews.com. This review praises the way its light stays consistently bright (at about 44 lumens) for six hours before dropping to 50 percent. Therefore, it's an excellent flashlight for close-up and intermediate-range tasks.
The sturdy polymer body is also an advantage for jobs where electricity might make a metal flashlight case dangerous, and it comes with a clip. This flashlight's only drawback is you can't stand it upright on its tail. It puts out a little more light than an incandescent MagLite 3D, but not as much as a MagLite 2D or 3D LED.
Bear in mind that a household flashlight can be a lot smaller and put out even more light. As noted earlier in the sections on pocket-size and glove-compartment flashlights, reviews and owners praise the Fenix LED flashlights for consistent, bright, adjustable light with long runtimes. Their ultra-durability just isn't usually as important for household use.
Emergency crank flashlights
For emergency use, a "crank flashlight" can be ideal because it needs no replacement batteries at all. Instead, you turn a handle for about a minute at a time, which recharges the internal battery. Crank flashlights, also called windup flashlights, are an especially good choice for a disaster-preparation kit. The main caveat is that we didn't find any windup flashlights with lifetime warranties or tight weather seals.
As the most useful crank flashlight, two reviews recommend the five-LED Electrilite (*est. $20), because it can also charge your cell phone. At DigitalReviews.net, reviewer Mike Regtien confirms that one minute of cranking is enough to get a bright light for 30 minutes. After that, the brightness gradually declines. For even more runtime per windup, you can lower the light level by using fewer than all five LEDs. You can also get a version with four white LEDs plus one red, so you can use just the red LED for night vision.
Reports say that it takes three minutes of cranking to get eight minutes of cell phone usage -- not bad for emergency calls. A voltage regulator protects the cell phone, and the Electrilite comes with adapters for various cell phone brands. At 3.5 x 2.25 x 1 inches in size, this flashlight is just barely pocket-size, and it isn't waterproof -- but it's a good choice for a glove-compartment flashlight. That way, if you're stranded on a highway with a car that won't start and a cell phone that's lost its charge, you can still make emergency calls.
For light alone, without cell phone charging, the three-LED Wind 'n Go flashlight gets high ratings from owners reviewing it at Amazon.com. Owners say it fits comfortably in the hand and is bright enough for a nighttime walk. For longer runtime, you can use just one of the LEDs. Most owners say cranking the Wind 'n Go flashlight for one minute gives an hour of bright light (followed by several hours of dimming light). There may be an occasional lemon, since one owner complains he gets only a few minutes of bright light. The warranty is for one year.
Also at Amazon.com, one especially useful review of the Dynamo Illuminator provides a detailed comparison with the Garrity Power-Lite . Both get average 4-star ratings from owner-reviews at Amazon.com, but the Garrity Power-Lite -- though a bit harder to crank -- provides bright light much longer, and it focuses the light into a stronger beam. It's fairly big -- 1.1 x 6 x 2 inches -- and weighs over a pound (about as much as a can of soda). However, the rubberized grip makes the Garrity Power-Lite reasonably easy to hold, and owners also give it high ratings at Wal-Mart.com. The lifetime warranty doesn't cover the internal NiMH battery, and we found a few reports of quality-control problems.
Shake flashlights recharge an internal battery when the user shakes them vigorously. This might seem easier than hand cranking, but we read disappointed owner-written reviews of quite a few shake flashlights. Owners say this type of flashlight produces too little light for the effort, recommending it only as a children's toy. For that purpose, a shake flashlight does, indeed, save batteries.
The main drawback to windup or crank flashlights is that they're not built for durability, and warranties are short or even unspecified -- which lessens their value for emergency use. It would be wise to keep a more durable "lifetime" flashlight on hand as well. Note that some crank powered emergency radios also include flashlights and cell-phone chargers. These are covered in our separate report on weather radios.
Some emergency rechargeable flashlights are designed to provide relatively brief light at the start of a power outage. They're left plugged into an AC outlet, then turn on automatically when the power goes out. After that, a rechargeable model can serve as a handheld flashlight to help you find candles or a lantern (or go out to start your portable generator). Or you can leave them in place like a nightlight.
Owners reviewing rechargeable flashlights at Amazon.com give reasonably high marks to the Intermatic Three-Way Emergency Power Failure Light #PR3C (*Est. $12). Owners like the six-year warranty as well as the pass-through outlet, which lets you plug in other devices. The main complaint is that the flashlight stays bright only for about 15 or 20 minutes; after that it's dimmer -- though it can still serve as a nightlight. We found similar complaints about other models.
A solar-powered flashlight isn't as reliable for emergency use, since the sun may not be shining enough when you need to recharge it. As an extra flashlight, however, the fairly new 6-LED BoGo Light is getting quite a bit of attention because when you buy one, the manufacturer also sends one to the developing country of your choice -- or to United States servicemen in Iraq or Afghanistan. Articles at Newsweek, The New York Times, National Public Radio and elsewhere praise this program. Villagers can replace relatively dangerous kerosene lamps with solar BoGo flashlights. Experts estimate that about 2 billion people in the world live off the electrical grid, and in some African countries, a third of a household's income goes to kerosene.
The 13-ounce BoGo Light needs about eight hours of sunlight to provide four to five hours of light. Reviews -- and villagers -- say the light is bright enough to read by. The solar panel should last 20 years, and the three AA rechargeable NiMH batteries can be recharged up to 1,000 times. The hard ABS plastic case is water- and shock-resistant, and comes with a hook for carrying on a backpack or to illuminate a room. An even better BoGo Light will be available later in 2008; see The Buzz section below.
Most rechargeable flashlights have a shorter runtime per battery charge and are pretty expensive for the light you get. The halogen MagLite RX1019 (*Est. $90) gets top rating among owners reviewing flashlights at Amazon.com, but owners say it only provides about two hours of runtime, then must be recharged for another two hours. Some owners recommend the Streamlight Stinger Rechargeable Flashlight 75014 (*Est. $85) as a brighter yet lighter-weight alternative. At 10 ounces, it weighs only about a third as much as the MagLite RX1019, but it has only half the runtime -- about an hour.
Rechargeable flashlights with removable batteries let you replace a drained battery with a freshly recharged one (as long as you have at least two batteries). This gives you unlimited runtime, as long as you have access to an AC outlet for the charger. The best buys usually come bundled with other cordless tools. These kits usually include two batteries and a charger, plus a cordless drill, flashlight and possibly more tools as well. We cover these in our reports on cordless drills and circular saws.